USS New Jersey: Dusting off an antique or polishing new deterrent?
Depending on one's point of view, the recommissioning of the battleship USS New Jersey this week is either the wave of the future for naval warfare or a throwback to pre-World War II ''show the flag'' days.
Speaking at the Long Beach, Calif., naval shipyard Tuesday, President Reagan reaffirmed his goal of building a 600-ship navy with a more aggressive posture and makeup. ''We must be able in time of emergency to venture in harm's way, controlling air, surface, and subsurface areas to ensure access to all the oceans of the world,'' the President declared at ceremonies marking the New Jersey's return to active service.
The huge battlewagon was commissioned 39 years ago, but spent nearly two-thirds of that time in mothballs. It saw action in World War II, Korea, and (for 110 days) in Vietnam. While it retains such seeming anachronisms as a teakwood deck, the New Jersey of today is far different from the one which steamed to meet the Japanese fleet and served as Adm. ''Bull'' Halsey's flagship.
It still is armed with 16-inch guns that can hurl a 2,700-pound shell 23 miles. But these are overshadowed in their ability to threaten or destroy enemy forces by 32 new Tomahawk cruise missiles that can find targets more than 1,000 miles away, as well as by 16 Harpoon antiship missiles with a 60-mile range. The 57,355-ton behemoth also bristles with the Navy's latest electronic warfare equipment. And, to fend off attacking missiles like the Exocet, it also has extremely thick steel armor plating and computer-radar-guided guns that can fire 4,000 rounds a minute.
But this hasn't convinced skeptics of its usefulness in these days of high-tech warfare. Former President Jimmy Carter criticized battleships as '' 1940s technology.'' Others note that shaped-charge missiles could easily penetrate the ship's thick skin. Battleship reactivation was a source of much controversy within the Navy itself, and some former senior admirals argue that the service should be moving towards smaller ships.
Congress, however, agreed with the administration that refurbished battleships are a bargain at $326 million apiece. Last week it allocated another wants to return four Iowa-class battleships to active duty.